Reel Life Stories: Documentary Film and Video Collections
in the UC Berkeley Library's Media Resources Center

Origins of Documentary film:
Leni Riefenstahl

In 1934, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned by Adolph Hitler to film the annual Nazi Party rally that took place that year. She creates the landmark documentary Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens: Das Dokument vom Reichsparteitag 1934), a propaganda tool that would prove to be central in constructing the image of Hitler as national savior. Director Frank Capra said of Riefrenstahlís film "[It] fired no gun, dropped no bombs. But as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal."

From 1936-38, Riefenstahl filmed and edited Olympiad, a paean to Aryan manhood and womanhood and physical culture in the guise of a record of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In filming Olympiad, Riefenstahl used a total crew of sixty cinematographers. Three different types of black-and-white film were used to shoot over 1.3 million feet of film (over 248 miles). In the process, Riefenstahl invented or enhanced many of the sports photography techniques that are now standard: slow motion, underwater diving shots, extremely high and low shooting angles, panoramic aerial shots, and tracking systems for following fast action.


  • Books/articles about Riefenstahl

  • Exhibit Home Page

    Copyright (C) 1996-2003 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
    Media Resources Center
    Last updated 4/30/03.